By Bakary Ceesay
The government of The Gambia is pursuing a new “zero tolerance” policy against Trafficking in Persons (TIP), following the formulation of aggressive counter measures to combat the menace in the country.
Dr. Isatou Touray, Vice President last week formally presided over a two-day high level meeting that brought together various government departments and non-state actors to review the Gambia’s situational ranking under the 2019 TIP Report published by the US State Department.
“His Excellency, President Adama Barrow recognizes trafficking in persons as a grave violation of human rights and therefore gave directives for a zero tolerance policy on it. It is the responsibility of the State as a primary duty bearer to create the right environment for combating trafficking in persons in all its forms,” she told the meeting on Tuesday.
Following the downgrading of The Gambia to Tier 3 from Tier 2 ranking in the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, President Barrow assigned the Department for Strategic Policy and Delivery (DSPD) at the Office of the President the responsibility of coordinating responses to the recommendations of the report.
Since then, this said Department, in collaboration with the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons (NAATIP), had worked with relevant stakeholders to come up with concrete actions to address the issues highlighted in the 2019 TIP Report.
A number of action points have already been taken, including the assigning of more investigators to NAATIP, creation of NAATIP focal points at major border entry points throughout the country; documentation of all TIP cases reported, and the improvement of Safety measures at Bakoteh Shelter for victims.
The Solicitor General at the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Cherno Marenah, described human trafficking as “a major threat” to the maintenance of the rule of law and public order. However, at the most basic level, he added, it is one of the worst forms of the violation of human rights. Like other forms of trans-national organised crimes, human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry.
“The factors and circumstances of human trafficking and exploitation in The Gambia are varied and complex. Firstly, Gambia’s geographical location along the west coast and our open borders has for a long time made the country a transit zone for migrants mainly from West African countries enroute to Europe and the United States,” he explained.
The booming tourism industry of the country also serves a magnet for economic migrants and exploiters of persons. Similarly, The Gambia is also a source of, and destination for the exploitation of children sent to study in religious schools commonly referred to as the “Almudos”. In a number of cases, these children ultimately find themselves as beggars in our streets as well as being engaged in domestic servitude for their masters.
The Director General of the Department of Strategic Policy Delivery, Mr. Alhagie Nyangado said the two days’ meeting served the purpose even if not for the issue of the rating by the US State Department. For the Office of the President, It is a national issue and the earlier the country fights against it, the better for it.
During the review process, a set of questionnaires were used to guide deliberations so as to come up with comprehensive answers to The Gambia’s situation.
So far, nine new cases have been identified for investigations and the government assigned three investigators from the Immigrations, state intelligence and the Police to further capacitise the NAATIP’s investigation capabilities.
Mr Nyangado announced that aggressive prosecutions will follow every investigations conducted. Government is also working on establishing a hotline to facilitate public’s reporting of the cases.
The Executive Director of NAATIP, Mrs. Toulaye Jawara described the two-day meeting as an important national assignment that added knowledge on trafficking in persons through information sharing and learning of lessons with best practices.